RDA as a training/education body? A certification body? Is there a mission/future here?
RDA Council Strategy Subcommittee - 8 November 2016
The RDA is building technical and sociological bridges to enable data sharing. It is a neutral, international forum which gathers participants from different countries and profiles and tackles a wide range of subjects in Working Groups and Interest Groups, focused on domain science, community needs, data referencing and sharing, data stewardship and services, base infrastructure, and partnership with other organisations. It is well understood that training and dissemination of new skills is a key question to enable Open Data and Open Science. Thus the question of whether RDA should engage in training and curriculum certification is often asked.
One first important role of RDA in the evolution of practices is in its Forum function. Participants in Groups discuss a lot about their practices and the lessons learnt during the formal face-to-face or teleconference meetings, and there is also lots of informal communication about these subjects during the Plenary meetings, which gather hundreds of participants. I personally brought back useful input for my own data repository or our disciplinary interoperability framework from each of the Plenary meeting, either from Group meetings or from unexpected discussion during coffee breaks or meals.
Two examples: I decided to submit an application to obtain the Data Seal of Approval for Strasbourg astronomical data centre CDS, which was already a member of the World Data System, following discussions on the constitution of the RDA/WDS Certification Interest Group at the first Plenary; the International Virtual Observatory Alliance, the astronomical interoperability framework, decided to include its Registry of Resources in EUDAT B2FIND following discussions and presentations at the fourth Plenary. I am certainly not the only one: participants in a Plenary tend to come back to a next one, to participate in the activities but also because they learn useful things from the meetings.
The role of the RDA in creating or improving skills is by far not limited to the personal interactions between its members. The RDA Groups produce recommendation and outputs, many of them outlining good practices on different aspects of scientific data sharing. These documents are disseminated through the RDA site, and many Groups also engage in dissemination activities towards specific stakeholder groups, or support adoption of their recommendations and outputs. There are also additional activities, for example at the regional level the prototype work on the Atlas of Knowledge in Europe, to explain the recommendations and put them in a wider context.
In addition, three of the currently 75 RDA Groups are engaged in activities relevant to education and training in basic data skills: the RDA/CODATA Summer Schools in Data Science and Cloud Computing in the Developing World Working Group, the Development of Cloud Computing Capacity and Education in Developing World Research Interest Group, and the Education and Training on handling of research data Interest Group. These Groups, which belong to the “community-needs focused” category, are engaged in defining training material and setting up prototype training schools, harnessing the wide variety of expertise and interests present in the RDA membership. The successful school organised in collaboration with CODATA, held in Trieste 1-12 August 2016, is the output of the RDA/CODATA Summer School Working Group. It raises lots of interest, as shown for instance during the recent Workshop on Improving Data Sharing and Re-use in and for Africa organised by RDA Europe and South African hosts on 2 October 2016 before the ICRI 2016 meeting in Cape Town. CODATA will likely take the lead in the organisations of the next workshops, as an activity relevant to its strategic plan. There is a common understanding between RDA and CODATA that RDA would focus as explained on training the data practitioners on the data sharing building blocks it develops, whereas its partner organisation CODATA would focus more on training researchers on data issues. Both organisations recognize that these are related efforts and collaborate to ensure both practitioners and researchers benefit fully. The RDA fully engaged itself, through the common Working Group, in the enabling activity of setting up an initial workshop and its content. Engaging itself in training activities on data issues for researchers beyond this initial stage is out of its mission, and is rather relevant to organisations such as its partner CODATA and Universities, and to projects such as EDISON in Europe, with which RDA already established a liaison.
An analogy can be made with the RDA activity around certification of data repositories. This time partnership was established with the World Data System (WDS), involving also the Data Seal of Approval (DSA). RDA is the host of the Repository Audit and Certification DSA-WDS Partnership WG. DSA and WDS are international bodies which perform “basic level” certification of data repositories. The RDA provided a Forum to create the common WG, which fulfilled its aim to align the two initially different DSA and WDS certification frameworks, thus reducing the number of standards, a rare and notable thing! RDA enabled certification, but does not do certification. Both DSA and WDS are evolving their Certification frameworks to implement the RDA WG products.
In summary, education and training per se are not part of the RDA mandate. RDA as a Forum plays an important role to transform the practices of its members. Support and training about RDA findings and outputs are also essential, and regional and national RDA initiatives should play an important role in this domain in addition to the Groups which produced the output. In the frame of its aim to build bridges to enable data sharing, the RDA also engages, on a limited, case by case level, in prototyping education and training practices, taking advantage of the diversity of its membership, in particular in partnership with organisations which have a mandate in this domain. This is also in line with RDA aim to establish links with possible membership from less developed countries. The RDA will not operate schools and training programmes beyond this initial enabling phase of assessment and prototyping, but liaises with relevant organisations.
Drafted by Francoise Genova, RDA TAB Co-Chair and RDA Council Subcommittee Member